|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
Alexis stifled a yawn for the umpteenth time, blinking in a desperate attempt to keep awake as the hazy film of exhaustion descended over her eyes. Her position, crouching behind a thorny, dense shrub, was not conductive to comfort or focus, she discovered, but it was crucial to keep still if she wanted to catch anything. The fingers of her right arm were cramped from clutching a make-shift string she'd made from braided strands of her dress, and her stomach moaned and grumbled from want of food. It had been hours and still nothing had dared approach her trap.
She looked up, and, seeing the red tinges of sunset begin to light up the sky, bringing with it an ever-increasing evening chill, she began to grow more nervous. It would be dark soon, and she still had not attempted to make a fire. As her mind became clouded with doubts and fears, making her question if all this was simply a waste of time, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.
Holding her breath, she watched, as an unassuming rabbit bounded nonchalantly into view, not waiting a moment to consider, and began to contentedly nibble on the small crust of bread placed beneath a rickety cage woven out of flexible, green branches. Not wasting a second, Alexis pulled the string, sending the stick it was tied to skittering away from beneath its make-shift basket, leaving the hungry cony captured. Breathing a shocked, overjoyed prayer of gratitude, she scampered down from her hiding spot and placed a foot firmly on the cage as its catch tried to escape.
Killing it hadn't fazed her in the slightest, having been taught well in the required suspension of sympathy when it came to hunting. Actually skinning and cleaning the rabbit was an entirely different ordeal. She'd done it before, had been taught by her brother, and the creature's insides did not make her so much as flinch.
Nevertheless, her skills were rusty, as was the blade she had snatched up from a blacksmith's rubbish pile on her way out of Nottingham. Her useless left arm only made matters worse, and it took twice the proper amount of time to prepare the animal, her having devised several schemes for keeping it still with a rock, or held between her knees, as she carved out its organs.
Now she had to cook it. The pies and bread would keep for a bit longer, but the fresh meat would soon spoil if not eaten quickly. Glaring at the pile of dry leaves and twigs she had gathered throughout the day, Alexis wondered exactly how she was going to set it ablaze. She had no flint and steel with her, or anything at all besides a horse, a knife, a cloak, some food, and the ragged, tattered dress on her back.
Shivering beneath her hood, she tried to remember how she'd been taught to make a blaze long ago, when she was just a small child. Closing her eyes, Alexis felt her father's rough, large hands gently grip hers, moving them back and forth, and his warm, soft breath while he whispered, "There you go, just like that." Once again she saw the entranced face of her brother with his big, big brown eyes, the shower of sparks she made illuminating his face for a brief instant.
Opening her eyes, she shook off these visions, knowing that any memories of her family hurt too much, and that is was no time for tears. After a few minutes of searching, she found what she needed and carried them back to the clearing. Sitting down, she laid out before her a large, somewhat flat stick, and a sharp rock. Gripping the stick between her feet, she picked up the rock and began rubbing, pushing it back and forth.
In a few hours, she had gathered quite a pile of shavings, and finally one of the thousands of sparks that had resulted from the friction, landed in the pile and caught. Blowing it ever so carefully, she watched it grow, consuming the shavings in a twinkling, and she gently added more tinder, watching the dry leaves catch, and when the blaze was big enough, she gingerly placed a couple twigs in its heart. "Yes, yes!" she breathed, watching them go up as well.
With the moon high in its course, Alexis roasted the chunks of meat she had gathered from her kill, stretching out her right arm, which now ached all over from the incessant rubbing. As the orange and golden tongues of flame licked the blackened sky, her mind was brought back to the last time she had looked into the light of a similar blaze. She had felt so afraid, so worried, and for what? She realized now that Robin had probably never meant to hurt her, had never once lied to her. But how had she responded? What had she done ever since meeting him? Lied.
That was what haunted her most of all. Revenge? That was something she felt herself capable of justifying, but hurting the people who only wanted to help? Her eyes and throat began to sting whenever she thought of it.
No. She had to stop dwelling on them. What was done was done, and she could do nothing to change it. Right now, it was important to focus on how she was going to protect herself when the heavy, chilling snows of winter began to roll in, which, judging by the snapping cold in the weather, could be any day now.
Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part1